Though the current pandemic will end, delivery and takeout are here to stay and can serve as revenue generators you’ll want to leverage for the long term. After all, 46% of consumers said they don’t see their delivery or takeout habits returning to pre-COVID levels in the next 6 months, and half of those respondents said they never will.
For restaurants not yet set up for off-premise dining, there has never been a better time to tap into the food industry’s fastest-growing revenue channel: online ordering.
What is online ordering?
Online ordering is when a restaurant offers delivery or takeout options through a website or other application. A customer can use this digital offering to view the menu and place an order online through a digital channel.
Many hospitality businesses use an online ordering system to facilitate their online food orders. An online food ordering system is a software that enables restaurants to accept and manage their pickup and delivery orders placed via the internet.
How do I set up an online ordering system for my restaurant?
Here’s how your restaurant can start taking orders, delivering meals, and maximizing revenue through online ordering.
Create a simple, profitable menu
Streamline your pickup processes
Select your online ordering technology
Promote your online ordering service
Focus on building loyalty and retention
1. Create a simple, profitable menu
The customers you will serve first, and most often, will likely be the regulars who frequently visit your restaurant for on-premise dining. Build a menu with them in mind.
It’s not necessary to make your entire menu available for online orders. Not every dish will transport well. Nor should you worry about having to jazz up your menu with new, untested dishes. That’s not how you’ll cut through the noise of other delivery options. There will be plenty of time for this when you’re more accustomed to delivery, and ideally, when foot traffic has resumed in your restaurant.
What’s more important is to offer dishes, preferably high-margin ones, that you know your regulars already know and love. Pull up the order history of these customers in your restaurant CRM for data and insights into the dishes you can rely on to drive orders. With this in mind, curate the menu you’ll offer for online ordering.
2. Streamline your online order pickup processes
Restaurant operators starting to offer online ordering need to ‘wow’ from the first interaction to ensure diners become repeat orderers. When it comes to your restaurant’s pickup procedures, make sure that guests feel safe and comfortable. This could include having a dedicated ‘greeter’ when customers arrive or having a designated pickup area that helps create a contactless experience for diners. Plus, make sure your customers have a quick and easy way to contact you with any questions or concerns. Repeat customers spend approximately seven times more than one-time purchasers, so you’ll want to ensure the best guest experience from the first interaction.
Most importantly, invest in technology that enables the entire ordering, payment and pickup process to be done seamlessly and virtually. When looking for new technology partners to facilitate online ordering, look for platforms that not only enable you to own and leverage diner data, but that help you do better business, faster. This could include a platform that allows diners to input car details for curbside pickup, pay in advance to facilitate speedier pickup times, or one with SMS functionality to let diners know their order is ready.
3. Select your online ordering technology
There are two main ways you can offer online ordering: through a third-party solution, or through a direct solution.
What are the pros and cons of a third-party online ordering solution?
PROS: Third-party solutions for online ordering provide great visibility for your restaurant in their marketplaces. A customer who is scrolling through a third-party app or website to find a restaurant to order from may come across your restaurant and select you for their meal. The third-party platform arranges the process start-to-finish, order-to-delivery.
CONS: Third-party online ordering solutions provide a strong marketing offering, but come at a high cost. Typically, you can expect to pay upwards of 30% on every order in commission fees. Not only are you paying these fees for every order, but you’re also handing over control of your brand and valuable guest data. These providers will then use the information from the order placed at your restaurant to drive repeat orders through their platform, often promoting a competing restaurant. Though you may receive orders through third parties, they come at a high price. You have no ability to build a relationship with that diner, and there’s less opportunity to turn them into a repeat customer for your business.
These are your patrons, after all. They want to see their money go to your business, not a middleman — especially at a time like this. In a world in which 54% of delivery customers actually start off with a specific restaurant in mind and go online to find them, make sure your primary channel for taking orders is one that you own.
Don’t forget a Point of Sale(POS) integration
If you’re offering online ordering for the first time, prioritizing an online ordering platform that integrates with your point of sale (POS) is crucial. When the two are integrated, orders flow into your POS in real-time and notify staff so they can get to work putting together orders immediately.
If your online ordering platform is not integrated with your POS, you’ll want to make sure you have someone on staff keeping a close eye on incoming orders so they can enter them into the POS system as soon as possible.
4. Promote your Online Ordering Service
Once your online ordering service is up and running, don’t forget to let the world know!
Market online ordering across every channel you own. Put it on your website — prominently. Add it to your social media channels and Google. Most importantly, reach out to your customer database with the announcement that you’ve started offering online ordering.
For your closest regulars, you could even text or call them with the news. As with all marketing, the more personalized you can make the outreach, the better. If guest data reveals a set of regulars who consistently order a specific dish, let them know their favorite offering from your menu is now available for delivery and takeout. You can even offer a value-add (i.e. free dessert) for everyone on their first direct order. When you reach out to your database, consider highlighting the boost that ordering delivery and takeout directly will offer your business during this difficult time. Make it an appeal; make it exciting. However you decide to notify your customers, get the word out.
Sample copy for notifying customers about online ordering
Here is some sample copy we’ve drafted to inspire your own online ordering notification emails.
Subj: Miss us? We have good news.
Our mission has always been to serve our community delicious food and amazing experiences. As our world continues to shift, we’re excited to announce that we now offer direct delivery and takeout options, bringing our food straight to your door.
To check out our menu and place an order, head to our website here. Please note, our management has implemented the highest level of sanitation as we bring the experience of [VENUE] to you.
We appreciate you ordering directly from our restaurant vs. a third-party marketplace. By doing so, you’re supporting our financial success and allowing us to provide you with the personalized experiences you know and love.
Your support is greatly appreciated, and we can’t wait to serve you soon!
5. Focus on building loyalty and repeat business
Owning the guest relationship with direct online ordering is about more than just paying a smaller commission. It also means you can engage directly with customers to drive repeat business — both through delivery and takeout and, eventually, dine-in.
Email automation streamlines this process. With a reduced staff, your restaurant won’t be able to devote as many resources as you normally might to customer marketing. Automating this process takes that burden off your staff. It keeps your restaurant top-of-mind for loyal customers. And makes repeat orderers out of people trying your restaurant’s online ordering for the first time.
Re-engaging customers also drives dine-in business. The people who have become repeat customers of your online ordering offering will be much more likely to join you in your restaurant. Especially if you offer dine-in promotions alongside, or as part of, your online ordering offerings.
The last year has challenged restaurants unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Luckily, rolling with the punches is one thing restaurant operators can do better than anyone else.
If you’re interested in offering online ordering for the first time, you can not only create new, profitable revenue streams, but own your customer relationships for the long term. Direct online ordering, combined with third-party delivery marketplaces, is an exciting and growing revenue opportunity in our industry that you can expect to remain an important part of your business going forward.